Grid Scale, Solar, Storage

Solar Firms Secure Venture Funding

This week saw the venture funding of two solar energy firms, one focused on commercializing Copper Indium Selenide (CIS) thin-film photovoltaics and the other on mirror-based sun tracking systems coupled with traditional photovoltaics.

Coincidentally, both companies, the Texas-based HelioVolt and Energy Innovations, were funded by venture capitol firms based in Menlo Park, California. HelioVolt secured $8 million from New Enterprise Associates (NEA) while Energy Innovations pulled in commitments of $16.5 million MDV-Mohr Davidow Ventures, with additional participation from founding investor, Idealab, based in Pasadena, California. HelioVolt says they have invented the fastest and most efficient way to manufacture thin film photovoltaic platforms surfaced with Copper Indium Selenide (CIS). The company believes CIS thin film offers the best performance of any thin-film PV material. “We are introducing a dramatically more efficient way to manufacture and install CIS, the proven highest-performing solar technology,” said Billy J. Stanbery, Ph.D., founder and CEO of HelioVolt and a solar energy pioneer. “We can shorten photovoltaic manufacturing time and thermal budget by a factor of ten to 100. This is the first truly practical technology to enable buildings to produce their own power.” The company’s manufacturing process can apply CIS coatings to traditional construction materials including steel, architectural glass and roofing, in custom shapes, sizes and tints. The PV can be incorporated into exterior cladding for buildings including metal and polymer roofing, skylights, and curtain walls, creating a new class of PV construction materials that could pose more of a challenge to traditional silicon-based solar PV. Energy Innovations will use their new funding to develop their rooftop PV solar concentrator systems they’re calling the Sunflower. Each Sunflower module is composed of an array of mirrors that track the sun throughout the day and year, concentrating its light onto a small panel of PV cells that generate electricity. By replacing large amounts of very expensive, silicon-based PV cells with inexpensive mirrors, Energy Innovations expects to drive down the cost of solar electricity by half or more. “Clean energy technologies will provide a vital foundation for 21st century economies, and we were greatly impressed with the potential we saw in Energy Innovations,” said MDV general partner Erik Straser, who will join the Energy Innovations board of directors. “They have made some important breakthroughs that have the potential to drive down the cost of solar electricity, and we look forward to working with them on commercializing these new technologies.” The company is currently testing the Sunflower on its own roof in Pasadena and will soon be rolling out additional test units to sites in different climate zones. Following Underwriters Laboratory certification later this year, Energy Innovations’ subsidiary, EI Solutions, will begin installing Sunflower systems on customer rooftops in the fourth quarter. The system is designed to meet the electrical needs of grid-tied, flat-roofed commercial, government and other institutional buildings, the fastest-growing segment of the solar market.